Former Gonzaga star Brandon Clarke is one of the top prospects on both the offensive and defensive side of the floor in the 2019 NBA draft.
His lane agility and vertical both ranked in the top five percentile points among all combo forwards to have ever participated in the combine, per NBAthlete.com. He had the best field goal percentage, offensive rating and defensive rating in the NCAA last season while leading all players in total win shares as well.
While he is one of the older prospects in this draft, he is also perhaps the most win-now player in the class. Clarke recently took some of his time to chat with HoopsHype about what he has done to make it this far.
I’d love to hear a little bit about the feedback you have received during the pre-draft process so far.
BC: Yeah! I’ve gotten pretty good feedback. I talked to lots of teams. I’ve just told them that I’ve been working on my shot, working on the things that they’ve wanted to see me improve. They all know that I’m good at, stopping the ball on defense. We all know that I’m pretty good at that. But they want to know if I’m going to be able to stretch the floor out more, which is what I’ve been working on really.
Obviously, the shot has been something that you’ve been working on for a long time. Talk to me a little bit about the evolution of your shot since San Jose State and where it’s come from then and what has changed.
BC: Yeah. Really it’s just been lots of reps. After changing my form after leaving San Jose State, it’s just really about getting in reps since then. The form has gotten so much better. I think that teams saw that and it was a plus for me because they thought that I can get better as a shooter. So now it’s really getting off the shots and getting up reps and proving that I’m going to keep on getting better.
How would you describe the change and what specifically went into it?
BC: When I got to Gonzaga, I worked out a lot with the assistant coach Brian Michaelson. It was just lots of just having to fix it, just getting it so my elbow was straight and I was shooting it in front of my face more than opposed to the side of my head like I was. After fixing it, it was just about getting up reps so I can cut it off closer to the basket. I got better at that and then I just went out farther and farther until I got to mid-range and then three-point range.
I’d love to hear a little more about your comfort now when it comes to spacing the floor.
BC: Yeah there’s still obviously a big jump I can make. But as of right now, I’m pretty comfortable shooting it. Every time that I shoot it, it feels good. All that means to me really is that I’m going to keep on getting better and better and I’m really happy to get better too. I’ve been having lots of pride in getting my shot better recently. So just to feel it feel good when we are playing 3-on-3 or 4-on-4, it just shows that it’s been really comfortable.
I believe you also can be one of the best rim finishers, scoring near the basket, among all college prospects as well and I’m curious what you think what helps you be so elite at that level.
BC: I worked on finishing in the paint a lot I feel like that’s just something that comes with my skill really. I have a really good floater in the paint. If I’m not going to finish, I’ll probably get fouled. So I’m someone who is elite in the paint. I think I was shooting around 70 percent, so it was a pretty sweet spot for me to shoot. But also just my timing and my verticality is something that is just really good. I’m pretty crafty, too, so there are lots of ways that I was able to score in the paint.
Obviously, there were some major successes at the combine but there were also some things some folks may have been a little disappointed about. What did you take away from the experience?
BC: Yeah, I guess that people thought I had longer arms. But I think people just thought that because on the court I pretty much play like a player that is bigger and longer than I am. My timing and my jumping are really good. I’m somebody that can get off of the floor quicker than most players do and I’m pretty much able to get lots of blocks that guys that are bigger can get and I’m pretty sure teams knew that I could jump and that I was quick. But for them to see that and make sense of why I was so good at blocking shots was important. I’m just a really good, quick, jumper and I have a really quick second jump, too.
Can you help me explain how that vertical leap helps make up for your wingspan, where people may have been disappointed?
BC: Yeah, like I said I can jump really really quick so that’s something that makes it so I can get the shots that are tough to block. I’m also really good at altering shots too and I’m really good at jumping straight up. When I’m playing defense, I’m really good at going vertical, that’s something we really practiced at Gonzaga and that’s something I was great at. I’m just a really good jumper like I said it’s something that always came pretty easy to me and it’s gotten a lot better over the years. But just my timing is something that really separates me and also when that’s mixed with my jumping ability that makes me a really good shot blocker and a really good defender.
I’ve felt that you are the far and away best two-way prospect in this entire draft class, period, I’d love to hear a little bit more about your defensive mentality, how you lock in when you’re on defense, and what you are able to do to be such a lockdown defender.
BC: Yeah, playing defense is a huge part of my game. I believe it’s a huge part of basketball, too. There are so many players that focus in on offense first and I’m really a guy that likes to focus in on defense first. I take lots of pride in playing really really good defense. I feel like that if I have a game where I don’t play defense well, I failed my team. So with that being said, I’m somebody that just really always focuses in on defense. I’m somebody that can switch on pretty much every ball screen which is something that teams are looking for because that’s just how the NBA has been changing. But I know I have quick feet and I’m able to hang with the big dudes in the post. I’m obviously able to block shots and make it tough for guys to score over me.
What position do you think that you’ll end up guarding at the NBA level?
BC: Yeah, I feel like they’ll probably put me matched with fours and threes. With that being said, I feel like I’ll be able to guard fives too. Obviously not every five, but, there are lots of fives that I’ll be able to guard. I’ll be able to switch every ball screen, so I can guard the ones and twos as well. I’ve watched lots of NBA games and I can always see myself guarding well in these games. So I think that teams are seeing that too.
That’s actually a question I love asking is when you’re watching the NBA playoffs, what are some of the roles you can see yourself playing on either end of the ball.
BC: I’ve been watching Draymond Green lately and I feel like that’s someone I can be. He’s just a really versatile player that can do lots of things on the court he’s a really, really good passer as well and that’s something that I love doing. I’m not sure that people know that I’m a great passer but I’m really good at finding my teammates on my drives and my picks. Obviously, Draymond plays defense really, really hard. He’s not really somebody that’s going to force up bad shots either. I feel like that I’m that same type of player with my basketball IQ that I have. So just watching him, that’s somebody I really feel like that’s a role I can have.
How did you develop your basketball IQ? Tell me about your relationship with the game of basketball and how you cultivated it over time.
BC: Yeah, I’d probably just say I had a really good club coach growing up, and he is somebody that really helped me just get my skills better and get my IQ better. He was my coach for about seven or eight years and he’s a really, really bright guy who knows the game well. I always was a pretty high IQ basketball player growing up. I think he really helped me get better at that. But it’s something that comes pretty natural to me. You can’t really work on it that much. It’s just something that like you either have it or you don’t have it. I just realized that growing up and having him as a coach is something that got my IQ even better.
When did you first realize that you were going to be an NBA player?
BC: I mean, to be honest, I’ve always wanted to really badly. But I don’t think that other people knew that I was going to be one until the start of my season last year especially with the games that were in Maui, seeing me play versus Duke and Arizona. That’s when people knew I could do it versus bigger guys that were really, really talented. So I feel like lots of the stuff that I did at San Jose State was overlooked possibly because the team wasn’t as good or because I wasn’t going up against as competitive players. So I just feel like people really saw me as a pick more in Maui, and then especially with the games versus Tennessee and North Carolina. I had a couple good games in the tournament too, so that helped lock me into one of the picks.
Was it in your head the whole time? Was this like something you had known all along and now they are seeing it or is it something where you helped convince yourself a little bit too?
BC: Yeah. I’ve had doubts before. I wasn’t sure if I was going to have to play in Europe or if I was going to have a shot to play in the NBA. But either way, I knew that I was going to be a pro. So I was never really freaking out about it. But I always knew that if I had the chance to play in front of the right people, I could make it into the NBA.
How much did playing on the biggest stages help you get to where you are today?
BC: Yeah, they were huge for me and I feel like they were huge for my teammates and my coaches too. That was [Gonzaga’s Mark Few] coach’s first time beating Duke. So I’m just really blessed that I could be on that team for that. He’s such a great coach that’s coached for so many years and he’s had so many great accolades too. I feel like to help him add that one, too, is awesome. Those games were something that was really, really, fun for me. I’m really blessed that people could watch and see me do well in them.
And you had a really special front court with essentially three future players that are in the NBA. How special were those relationships and how much did you guys push each other and how much are you still in contact to try and help motivate each other through this process?
BC: Yeah we still talk all the time. We are going to be brothers forever, man. Never been a question. It was definitely fun. Pushing each other during practice is something we love doing. Rui Hachimura and I always went at it at practice and I feel like I helped him on the defensive end and he also helped me on the offensive end a lot. I feel like that we are pretty much going to talk forever, and we’re gonna be brothers for life.
Your Player Efficiency Rating was the best in the last decade except for Zion Williamson. What does it mean for you to hear a stat like that?
BC: Yeah that’s something that’s really, really cool to me because I feel like I’m a player that doesn’t force up bad shots. I’m pretty much always a player that helps the offense get into motion, and try to find a scorer or help find the best shot really. I feel like that’s why I’m just like Draymond Green because I don’t force up shots. He’s always trying to find the best shot for his team and when it’s time for him to score the ball, he’s really good at it. So also just when I’m on the court I feel like that my team is always gonna be better defensively, because, like I said, it’s something that I take pride in, so I just feel like there’s a bunch of small things that I did to help my team win and that’s probably why the PER rating was the way it was.
What is life like off the court for you? What are some things that you do when you aren’t playing basketball, not working out, not at the gym?
BC: Yeah, life is great. I just finished college. So now that school’s done, I’ve just been playing lots of video games with the time that I have. I’m really into Fortnite and NBA 2K. I’ve been a pretty big Call of Duty fan. I’ve been watching movies. I’m not somebody that is crazy social. I’m not really going to go out to a party that much. I’m a pretty simple dude. I just like hanging out with friends and watching TV. I’ve been watching Game of Thrones. It just ended so now I’m trying to figure out something else to do. So I’ll probably find another show to watch.
Anything in particular that you have for your own goals and your own aspirations moving forward whether it’s on or off the court?
BC: Yeah, well first off, I’m just really looking forward to making an NBA roster. I’m really not going to be convinced that I truly have made it until my name is called. That’s pretty much my biggest goal. That’s been my biggest dream and goal for me. So once that happens, that’s pretty much when the work really, really starts for me. That’s when I’m going to have to get even better. But just with that being said, just I have a goal of being in the NBA for as long as I possibly can just make it. I want to help out my family. I’m just really, really blessed that I’m going to have a chance to do something that I love doing and to get paid for it.
Anything else that you think would be interesting for a story like this, that you really think could help either dispel some narrative or help add to your story that people may not know about you that you think would be cool to mention?
BC: I’m not sure. It’s pretty much that every night, I want to play with a really high motor and really high energy, so any team that gets me is pretty much going to get productivity right off the bat. So I’m going to play my butt off every night, and I’m sure that every team can use a player just like that.